116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Gazette is partnering with the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids to celebrate Black History Month. During the month of February, we'll feature information on the people, places and events that have shaped black history in Iowa.
If you live in Cedar Rapids, there's a good chance you've heard of or driven past Viola Gibson Elementary School or Viola Gibson Park. But, do you know about the woman behind the name?
Born, Sept. 6, 1905, in Tennessee, Gibson moved to Cedar Rapids with her family around 1918 and remained here until her death in June 1989 at age 83.
She was educated in the Cedar Rapids Community School District and studied for two years at Wayne State University in Detroit. She later attended nursing school and Moody Bible institute, both in Chicago.
She served as a minister for 20 years and also worked as a home nursing instructor for the American Red Cross.
But it was her work as a civil rights and community leader that made her an icon in Cedar Rapids and beyond.
In 1942, after her nephew was denied admission to Ellis Pool, Gibson joined a group of people in re-activating the NAACP in Cedar Rapids. She went on to serve the organization for many years, including two terms as president. She was also a founder of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Conference and served as treasurer of that organization for 15 years.
In the 1960s, Viola led a campaign to convince lawmakers from Iowa to support the 1964 Civil Rights Act. She also played a key role in introducing black history to the Cedar Rapids schools.
During her life, Gibson was honored with many awards and forms of recognition. In 1970, a city park was named in her honor and her name went up on the school in 2002.
To this day, the NAACP holds the annual 'Yes, I Can' awards in her honor.
To learn more about Gibson, visit the African American Museum of Iowa at 55 12th Ave. SE.